Recounting Mitchells Plain’s first Covid-19 case
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Cape Town – South Africa is approaching a grim milestone in the fight against Covid-19. Nearly 20 000 people have died from the virus since it first surfaced in the country around March last year.
While the country has exited the third wave, and positive cases have decreased, exhausted front-line medical staff are worried about the low turnout at vaccine sites nationwide, and the subsequent new wave of infections as we approach Christmas.
Doctor Jonathan Naude has been part of the specialist Covid care team who attended to the first positive case at Mitchells Plain Hospital. He recounted that day in March to the Weekend Argus: “I remember admitting the very first patient, seeing the X-ray, being amazed at how low her oxygen levels were. And I remember that this was exactly the same (scenario) I was reading in the press and all the journals I was seeing from around the world. And I realised, you know what? This person is going to have a positive Covid test.”
The next day Naude got a call from the laboratory. His worst fears were realised. The result was positive for coronavirus. “I remember saying - I've now seen my first person with Covid-19,” said Naude.
The illness, first discovered in Wuhan, China in late 2019, had made its way to Mitchells Plain, some 12 317 kilometres away.
Experts say the Sars-CoV-2 originated in bats, and made the jump to humans at a wet market in Hubei Province. This is where people buy meat, fish and even wild animals like snakes and dogs for human consumption.
Mitchells Plain is one of South Africa's largest residential areas. But the series of events in Wuhan, would soon have devastating consequences for the Cape Town suburb.
To date, the district hospital serving the area of more than 310 000 residents, has treated more than 4 500 people with Covid-19. Naude told the Weekend Argus at least 600 of those patients died.
“Not every single one of them was old. In the third wave, we saw a huge number of people who were young, in their thirties and forties, passed away.”
He added: “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I’ve been a qualified doctor for 15 years and I have never ever seen a disease where someone with oxygen levels so low, still being (alive) in front of me,” he said. “In a Covid ward, the first thing you notice is everyone is on oxygen. But unlike other diseases, the person is still able to talk to you. The oxygen level might be down to 60%; usually someone can’t even talk to you when their oxygen level is less than 90% and they are short of breath. The reason that is so important is that people at home don’t know how low their oxygen levels actually are. And they don’t realise they have Covid until they actually check their oxygen levels in a hospital. When your oxygen levels go that low, if you remove your oxygen mask for a while, your body actually can’t function anymore. And that is why people, very sadly, pass away, in Covid wards.”
ANTI-VAXX AND THE NON-BELIEVERS
It was a question that had to be asked. How does Naude feel when he sees people at anti-vaccine marches. Like those taking place at the Sea Point promenade, where people deliberately flout lockdown regulations by not wearing masks or social distancing, and those who say Covid is not real? Especially when he and his colleagues on the front lines are working tirelessly to save the lives of those with the coronavirus?
"It is incredibly hard. It is so difficult. I try to understand where they come from. I try to understand that they have never been in a Covid ward. They’ve never seen people dying night after night after night. I understand that they have never had to organise teams of doctors just to complete death certificates so that we can actually make enough space in the hospital mortuaries, for the bodies to leave.
“What makes me sad about it is that we know that vaccines significantly reduce your chances of having to be admitted to hospital if you contract Covid. They estimate that you are 15-20 times more likely to have to come to hospital if you haven’t been vaccinated. There’s a lot of good data that shows that and it is very well proven.
“It makes me sad because I have treated so many people with Covid who have said ’I wish I had been vaccinated’. I now see these people around me and I wish I had the vaccine.”
His message to those people who are hesitant about getting the vaccine is: “I understand that you are scared. I understand that you are worried that so many people have said so many different things about the vaccine and you don’t know who to believe.
“Take it from me, we know that half of the world has been vaccinated already. And those people are still standing and they are living normal lives now. But those people who have not been vaccinated are paying a high price,” he said.
“And their loved ones are paying a high price as well. If, in this country, if your doctors and your nurses all lined up to get vaccinated, if they thought they could trust it, why shouldn't you?”
Naude said, as a doctor, it was hard to switch off from the tragedy at the end of a shift.
“To be honest, I don’t know if you are able to switch off. I grew incredibly close to a lot of my patients that we cared for in this hospital. These are people who passed away, after caring for them for days to weeks. Knowing them, talking to them every single day, chatting to their families - I would get to know every single one of their children by name in their time that they were here.”
“Back in our second wave, we had husbands and wives who shared a room together to comfort one another. Can you imagine the loss for a husband being in the same room as their spouse of 50 years and having them die in the same room?
“I don’t think we (as medical personnel) turn off. We still carry the tragedy and the heaviness in our hearts. We carry a huge load on us. Most of us, especially those of us who have been here since the very beginning (of Covid-19), need a lot of help in dealing with the load that we continue to carry. And that is why we are scared of (an impending) fourth wave. We know what lies ahead. We know we can avoid it. We know we don’t have to face a fourth wave. But we know that we might have to. And we know that we need to get the courage and the strength to get ready for a fourth wave.”